In Defense of Mulaney

TV Features

The day after Valentine’s Day, Mulaney aired the 13th, and final, episode of its first season. By the time you read this, there is a great chance that the show will have been canceled. It aired its final handful of episodes in the ignominious time slot of 7:00 PM on Sunday. Mulaney’s original run of episodes were cut down to 13. The ratings were bad. The show is all but done for, and maybe, by now, officially done for.

There will be little to no weeping or gnashing of teeth. Mulaney will be largely unmourned and unloved. After a litany of critical assessments that basically surmounted to “Not Seinfeld! Booooo!” the show never picked up any momentum, leaving it to die on the vine. John Mulaney had his chance to have his sitcom, and this is what it hath wrought.

Which is a shame, because Mulaney was a good show. Not a great show, but a good show. It was steady, and rarely disappointing—but also rarely knocked it out of the park. Its Halloween episode, simply titled “Halloween,” was really the one shooting star among this baker’s dozen, and an excellent example of what Mulaney was at the top of its game.

The show got weird, and got weird often. The Halloween episode consists partly of Nasim Pedrad’s Jane doing a musical number about how much she loved the dead guy’s apartment she has moved into in an attempt to convince people they were common law lovers so she can have his place. It was fun, and ambitious. Things didn’t always land, but they were delightful when they did.

Was John Mulaney a good actor? No, but he probably wasn’t as bad as people generally asserted (i.e. making it seem like he was reading off cue cards, but they were in Spanish so he had to translate in his head). But Pedrad as Jane was a good actor, and was wonderful on Mulaney. She was, in many ways, the George to John’s Jerry. She got to be awful in very amusing ways, and actually had the acting chops for it. Plus, Elliott Gould was on this show! His part was small, but he made the most of it.

Mulaney concluded Season One with an episode wherein John takes peyote and maybe sleeps with Andre (Zack Pearlman), and Jane reverts to her former self as a freshman in college. Also, Seaton Smith’s Motif has some wacky romantic antics involving a woman named Rodeo. A gun is involved. It wasn’t entirely successful, but it was good, and it was very much within the lines of the voice of Mulaney to the degree it got to have a voice.

Did Mulaney have issues it needed to resolve? You bet. You know what show also had problems in its first season? Seinfeld. The first season of Seinfeld is—straight up—not good. It’s flat and clunky and the performances aren’t great. Kramer is called Kessler in the pilot. Jason Alexander is basically doing Woody Allen. Elaine doesn’t get to have as much fun. But it was given a chance to find its voice, and it turned into one of the best sitcoms of all time. Mulaney won’t get that chance. People got out their long knives from day one; nobody tuned in, and that’s that. There was plenty of quality to Mulaney already. It could have turned into something rather good. Maybe they would have even figured out the best way to utilize Martin Short and John’s work situation.

Mulaney was the “no hugging, no learning” multi-cam sitcom for our time, and it (probably) died a quick, inauspicious death. In a weird way, people threw criticisms at it that were partly inspired by comparisons to Seinfeld, but Seinfeld is established and venerated. Mulaney just had the audacity to be vaguely reminiscent of it. Maybe John Mulaney will get another chance. Nasim Pedrad certainly will. Martin Short and Elliott Gould don’t need to. It was a good show. It will be missed. It will be forgotten. It is but a footnote in the history of television. And though it probably deserved better, people have their Seinfeld reruns to go watch, in the end.

Mulaney is [probably] dead. Long live Mulaney.

Chris Morgan is an Internet gadabout who writes on a variety of topics and in a variety of mediums. If he had to select one thing to promote, however, it would be his ’90s blog/podcast, Existential Parachute Pants. (You can also follow him on Twitter.)

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